Trinity Universe

Nether say die.

What do you get when you cross Disgaea with Atelier? Actually, don't answer that. But if you don't understand the question, this won't be the game for you. Trinity Universe is the Japanese RPG taken to its most baffling extreme, a sprawling, surreal and silly post-modern dungeon-crawler populated by bizarre characters, ridiculous stat-chasing and endless static dialogue scenes.

A three-way collaboration by some of the more inventive minds in the genre, it mashes Nippon Ichi's Disgaea up with Gust's Atelier series, and seasons the mix with additional development work by the less famous Idea Factory. The result, somewhat inevitably, is rather strange.

At the core of the game is the Netheruniverse, a curious reality currently threatened by incoming space debris that conveniently contains dungeons stuffed with treasure and monsters.

You explore these self-contained stages, defeat whatever creatures you find, hoover up the goodies then destroy the gravitational anomaly to send the whole place spinning back into the void. Oh, and you need to race to the exit before that happens, or you end up sucked into outer space as well.

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The question is, how much more manga could this be? The answer is none. None more manga.

The spoils of your sorties can then be used to stock up on healing items, new weapons and "Managraphics", which act as status boosts. In any other JRPG these would be magic gems. Here they're cute stickers, which should give you an idea of the tone the game strikes. Slap a cherry blossom sticker on your sword and petals float through the air with every strike. Gears of War it is not.

Combat encounters are triggered randomly and are turn-based with a heavy bias towards combo fighting. Each turn grants your characters limited Action Points, which start ticking away almost immediately.

Quick decisions are called for, but there's little menu-selecting to wade through. Each face button is mapped to a different kind of attack - Normal, Strong and Magical, basically - with the circle button reserved for character-specific special moves. While a character is active, you can input whatever sequence of attacks you want, and certain combinations result in special attacks that do more damage.

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Etna goes 3D, with frankly disturbing results.

You can opt to save your AP for the next turn, essentially doubling your available resources for a more prolonged assault, but things get more interesting when you realise you can overlap the combos, turning the last two buttons of one combo into the first inputs of the next, saving AP and unleashing ridiculous barrages that send your hit counter skyrocketing.

You can also tap R1 during any character's turn to create a Fury Chain with a chosen partner, allowing damage and other effects to carry over into their combos as well.

It's a deep and initially confusing system, but one that yields impressive results the more you play with it. The emphasis is on rapid levelling up (you'll hit level five before leaving the intro dungeon) and the accumulation of increasingly silly numerical values attached to weird items.

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